Hockey: Irish face Nanooks to end regular season
Kyle Cassily | Friday, February 24, 2006
It’s a showdown for playoff position in the CCHA’s last regular season weekend and no team is thicker in the hunt than the Irish.
Notre Dame (10-12-4/12-16-4) is set to battle Alaska-Fairbanks (10-12-4/14-13-5) for the last home playoff spot this weekend in a two-game series at the Joyce Center.
The Irish and the Nanooks, along with Ferris State, are currently deadlocked for eighth-place in the CCHA at 24 points apiece. In the CCHA playoff system, the first four teams gain a bye past the first round, while places five through eight secure opening round home ice in the 12-team league.
“I’m trying to make sure that everyone understands it’s not just about tomorrow,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said of the playoff picture’s impact on his team. “It’s about Saturday. It’s about next week. If we are fortunate enough to be at home next week that’s great, but we’ve been a really good road team in the second half.”
Although the Irish control their own destiny regarding home ice, other action around the league will significantly impact the final standings.
In its best-case scenario, Notre Dame could finish the season in fifth place and have the top spot in the first round. For that to happen, the Irish must sweep the Nanooks, while Northern Michigan and Ohio State, currently sixth and seventh places, must split their weekend series with a tie apiece. Fifth-place Lake Superior State must lose its two games to second-place Michigan State. A Ferris State sweep of its weekend opponent, No. 3 Michigan, would propel the Bulldogs into a tie with the Irish, but Notre Dame would break the tie with a greater number of league wins.
“We are in control of our own destiny,” Jackson said. “With the teams that are playing each other, not everybody can win this weekend. It’s going to be an interesting Friday and Saturday night for sure.”
In its worst-case scenario, Notre Dame could sink to 10th place by the end of the weekend. This would result from a combination of a sweep at the hands of the Nanooks and at least a tie from Ferris State in its two games against Michigan.
“Whatever happens, will happen,” Jackson said. “We need to play well and to me that’s the most important factor.”
Alaska-Fairbanks is a tough opponent for an Irish team that has rediscovered its scoring touch in the last few weeks. The Nanooks are 4-1-2 in their last seven games, with a win over No. 1 Miami and a sweep of Bowling Green.
Forwards Kyle Greentree and Curtis Fraser will provide trouble for the Irish on defense with their scoring touch and size.
“They’re a tough team to play against and it’s going to be a challenge for us to score goal,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be a battle of the wills, and it’s going to be a battle of patience.”
The Irish will honor their seniors and their parents in a pre-game ceremony before Saturday night’s 7:05 p.m. game at the Joyce Center. The class has compiled a 54-64-20 record in their three-plus seasons wearing a Notre Dame sweater.
“They’re all great kids and I would like to see them go out on a positive note,” Jackson said. “I’d like to see them have the opportunity to feel good about themselves when they leave here. Regardless of how things pan out over the next couple of weeks, three weeks, four weeks whatever, I just want it to be a positive finish to their careers.”
uThe Hobey Baker award, given to college hockey’s most valuable player by a combination of fan votes and the Hobey Baker selection committee, is currently in the preliminary process of accepting fan votes. One hundred ninety-three players from around Division I were selected to the preliminary fan ballot on Jan. 16. No Irish players were nominated for selection. In order for a player to reach this ballot the player must receive 25 fan nominations on www.hobeybaker.com.